Aging Parents: When to Stop Driving

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As our parents age, their activity levels change and at some point, you may feel concern that your parents should no longer drive a car. The decision to take away the keys should not be made lightly. Age should not be the main reason you take away the keys, since everyone ages differently, but you should look at their overall ability. Current medications or illnesses such as diabetic neuropathy, seizure disorders, dementia, stroke and vision problems can also affect driving ability.

If you have concerns, create opportunities to ride with your parent in the car and observe how they drive. Don’t become a back-seat driver, which can cause agitation, but look for warning signs such as:

  • Trouble turning or staying in the lanes
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Responding slowly to things happening around them
  • Trouble reading signs
  • Making small mistakes like not using a turn signal, confusing the gas and brake, etc.

Take notes after the ride about the warning signs you see. Then, it may be time to have a conversation with your parent about their driving. It may help to talk to other family members about what you’ve seen and get their support before starting a conversation with your parent or loved one.

If they resist or want an impartial opinion, look to see where driving evaluations are available in your area. An unbiased opinion may help you and your parent see what the best decision is. Some occupational therapy locations offer a driving assessment on site. If your loved one really won’t listen and you fear they are a danger to themselves and others, you can submit a request for reexamination to the DMV. The DMV can then request an individual to retake a driving test and revoke their license if necessary.  If you do need to take their keys away, it’s important to come up with ways for your parent to stay social. Ask friends or family to pick them up and take them places, like church or the doctor’s office, and look for community-based transportation or congregate meal sites that will give them a chance to interact with other people.


Additional resources:

  • AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety -- “Drivers 55 Plus:  Test Your Own Performance”
  • AARP Making Mobility Choices
  • North Carolina DMV
  • The Hartford: “We need to talk” includes a list of Warning Signs for Older Drivers


Spokesperson Background:

Dr. Tiffany Reed is a geriatric specialist at Piedmont Senior Care, and a member of the Cone Health medical group. Dr. Reed earned her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her residency in internal medicine at The Reading Hospital and Medical Center, and a fellowship in geriatric medicine at Duke University Medical Center.

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